I’ve always wanted to go to the house of yellow. There are a few brands that have been there on and off, my whole cycling life but Mavic is one that seems to have consistently been along side. Neither out of reach nor left behind. In fact I think we’ve kind of evolved in tandem.
Standing in an immaculate reception waiting for my guide Michel, the most sublime of french accents offers me coffee and a seat on some incredibly cool modern furniture while I wait. French style is famed of course but I can’t help thinking sometimes that one of the heydays and the part my generation are all clinging on to is about 1986. Because perhaps, if you look closely at french car design, architecture or street fashion, it could arguably be considered a bit of out of date.
They’ve always been on the subtle side of the fence compared with their neighbours perhaps, but currently they seem unable to let the shape do the talking. This is true of my beloved french car industry, none more so than Renault who seem to have left their design mojo somewhere in a service station on the D36 about a decade ago and haven’t been back to pick it up yet. It is not true however of Mavic. In fact it is quite the opposite. They seem to have encapsulated all that is modern and crucially contemporary about design, graphics, photography, film making, branding, packaging and product evolution and seem to deliver it over and over again with apparently effortless aplomb, all served up in a dish with made in France stamped on the outside. I’m really interested to see how much of that just comes naturally and how much is worked hard for, because it seems to have been really consistent over the years.
Before I arrived I kind of hoped the French mum sticking on the decals would indeed be a French mum sticking on the decals. And she’s here. With such hand/ eye co-ordination she could probably be a jet fighter pilot instead if she liked. Anyone that’s stuck new decals to a pride and joy frame will understand how it’s measure a hundred times – stick twice, buy more decals procedure. But this master sticker is more a glance once, stick once, having a chat kind of a person.
Back in the car and pointed toward the mountains the conversation turns to my seeming interest with the subtle differences in culture between Europe’s various next door neighbours. Mavic it seems to me is in some ways really French, yet in others, so un gallic. It’s clear in one way they don’t feel a want or need to engage full on into social media marketing and drive a yellow presence through the Twitterscape and on the other hand they have the great copy written graphic designed packaged product pretty dialled. They are pretty cool. They know it, but they don’t blow it. Or at least they don’t seem to blow that trumpet themselves that much. An admirable trait definitely but I worry if they need to a little more. It is an increasingly digital world after all and that means an insatiable appetite for now-ism that does tend to forget quickly and reward the sharp witted current trumpet blower. It doesn’t sit quite right that they’ve gone to all the trouble of building that little yellow square into something really podium and then they’re being matter of fact when they get it there. But talking with Michel I realise they may have a point, not so much tortoise and hare like perhaps but definitely a confidence, courage of conviction and long view that may just transcend the latest ‘cross platform marketing’. Now I think It would be honest to say France has a slight reputation of a confidence that can appear to blur the line of arrogance to some not familiar with the place first hand, but from my experience you need to live in France to understand it properly. There is a live and let live approach at ground level in this country and I think what is often mis-interpreted as nonchalance, is actually just a relaxed self confidence that they just don’t need reassurance and so don’t seek or indeed, reject it. I also think the French get on with the British better than most in Europe’s normal dysfunctional family too. We understand each other, we laugh at each other of course but we do so as close friends and neighbours, closer I think than any other two European nations perhaps. I am always reminded that I like this place. I know it will be my home.
As we near journey’s end, there’s one more stop before I get to go and retrieve my wedged hire car from it’s concrete confines, the section of heritage inside the service course. This is in many ways often the most interesting part of a visit like this, not so much because you are looking backwards after a day generally spent in the future, but because at my age in cycling years, I was part of that past as much as I am hoping I will be present in it’s future. A disc wheel from the ’88 Seul Olympics, the first Crossmax, a velodrome tri spoke wheel, now a clock, proper jerseys of cycling royalty past being thumbed through by very present heros, Dan Martin and Mike Cotty. The Service Course neutral yellow bikes and wheels all neatly stacked ready, another hero, Fabien Barel sitting reading the entries of his peers in the visitors book. It’s all here today. But the thing that grabs me the most is, well, it’d be neat to say it was the Paris Dakar rims package, right there as they appeared in that advert with that headset, but it was actually the Mavic Zap groupset on an old Look frame in the corner. Functionally ugly, probably didn’t work that well, heavy no doubt, but what vision, what engineering ability, what design confidence. Conviction in what they do, who they were and who they are. Not fly by night, or rebranded and not going anywhere. Invested. Professional and they know it. La Maison Jaune translates. Mavic is cool.